The announcement that Harley-Davidson will move some manufacturing overseas has given a second wind to Republican lawmakers who want to limit President Trump’s authority to impose tariffs.
Trump has argued for months that his tough negotiation tactics would pay off in better trade deals, but that was undercut this week by the news that the iconic motorcycle manufacturer based in swing-state Wisconsin was offshoring production.
Harley-Davidson was reportedly seeking to escape tariffs imposed by the European Union that could add as much as $2,200 to the cost of buying one of its motorcycles.
“It’s very concerning. It’s certainly not a good development,” Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune (S.D.), the third-ranking member of GOP leadership, said of the Harley-Davidson news.
“It’s certainly a red flag about trade policies the administration is implementing,” he added.
Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who has a Harley-Davidson factory just outside his district, blasted Trump’s trade policy for making it tougher for American companies to do business.
“I think tariffs are basically taxes,” Ryan told reporters Tuesday at the Capitol. “What ends up happening is you get escalating tariffs and end up raising taxes.”
Despite the frustrations, GOP lawmakers have resisted picking a fight with Trump, who regularly lashes out at opponents and maintains strong approval numbers with the GOP base.
While Ryan criticized the president’s tariff policies, he did not say what action Congress would take, if any, to rein him in.
Trump on Tuesday slammed Harley-Davidson, a company that he previously championed.
“A Harley-Davidson should never be built in another country-never! Their employees and customers are already very angry at them. If they move, watch, it will be the beginning of the end – they surrendered, they quit! The Aura will be gone and they will be taxed like never before!” Trump thundered in one tweet.
Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) are stepping up pressure on Senate GOP leaders to allow a vote this week on an amendment to the pending farm bill that would strip Trump’s power to impose tariffs and give it to Congress.
Corker and Toomey argue that the Senate should tackle Trump’s trade authority during the farm bill debate because steel and aluminum tariffs not only affect manufacturers such as Harley-Davidson, but also farmers whose exports face retaliatory trade measures.
“Everyone understands that the president is doing more damage to the [agricultural]community than any farm bill could ever do to help,” Corker said.
Corker and Toomey are negotiating with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to get a vote this week.
But some of Trump’s allies pushed back at a private Senate lunch on Tuesday.
They argue it would be unwise to provoke a clash with Trump a few months before the midterm elections.
“We’re concerned about doing it right now,” said a GOP senator who described the debate at the Tuesday lunch.
The lawmaker who requested anonymity to discuss the meeting said there are two factions in the conference. One wants to stop Trump from imposing tariffs, and the other worries that Trump could blast Congress for tying his hands and provoke an angry backlash from GOP voters.
“Several people strongly support [Trump] not doing this and several people continue to express concern about not doing something that might throw the election off,” the source added.
A second Republican senator said “the leadership is nervous” about opposing Trump on trade because they are skeptical that a confrontation will get him to change his approach and worry that the president could wind up bashing Republicans in Congress in the months before the election.
Some Republicans are advocating for a less confrontational approach that would limit Trump’s tariff authority instead of taking it away and giving it to Congress, as Corker and Toomey propose.
There is a push from members of the Senate Finance Committee for an alternative plan that would limit Trump’s power by narrowing the definition of national security interest that the president has invoked under Section 232 of the 1962 Trade Expansion Act.
Several Republican senators, led by Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), want the Finance Committee to hold hearings followed by a markup of legislation reforming the president’s ability to impose tariffs based on national security concerns.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) on Tuesday said he plans to move legislation in his committee addressing Trump’s Section 232 tariff authority.
“I haven’t quite formulated it yet. But we’re going to try to get some of these things resolved in a way that makes sense,” he said.
Hatch indicated he would prefer to limit the president’s statutory authority under the Trade Expansion Act instead of taking away his power to levy tariffs and give it back to Congress, the approach that Corker and Toomey advocate.
Hatch said Corker’s amendment “may go too far.”
Even so, Corker expressed optimism that his proposal could get a vote during the farm bill debate.
McConnell on Tuesday urged GOP colleagues not to block each other’s amendments, which had sparked tensions during debate on the defense authorization bill earlier this month.
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) is threatening to block Trump’s judicial nominees in order to force a vote on tariffs.
Republicans have a 51-49 majority but effectively control only 50 seats because Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has been away from Washington all year undergoing cancer treatment.
Flake, or any other Republican senator, could single-handedly hold up nominees to force a concession from leaders.
“We’re trying to work things out on the tariff vote. Whether it’s on the farm bill or somewhere else, that’s what we’re working right now,” Flake told reporters.
Flake, however, noted that some Republican colleagues worry that approving language curtailing Trump’s power to impose tariffs could draw a veto threat and imperil the farm bill.
“There are some people that feel strongly not to have it on the farm bill,” he said.
BY ALEXANDER BOLTON – 06/27/18
Jordain Carney contributed.